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Too many lies undermine power

A young man who wants to marry a girl tells her many flattering things.

A young man who wants to marry a girl tells her many flattering things. FR OSKAR WERMTER SJ

He makes many promises. He comes to pick her up in a flashy motor car to impress her with his wealth.

Except that the car is not his. It is merely borrowed from a well-to-do friend.

There is an old proverb, rume  risinganyepi hariroori  which can be losely translated as a man who does not tell lies will never marry (the woman he is courting)”.

If you want people’s support don’t tell them the truth.

If you want their votes as a candidate don’t tell them what you are really up to, tell them what they want to hear.

People want to be told lies. Or so the powerful think. For many years now we have been told that “sanctions” have destroyed our economy.

That a travelling ban on a small “elite” has shut down our factories and deprived our workers  of  employment  and income.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Before 1980 the entire United Nations, almost the whole world, was barred from trading with this country and yet its economy did not collapse.

The first government after Independence inherited a functioning economic system.  It contained structural injustice and needed reform, but it was productive.

A doctor cannot heal a patient unless he has arrived at a correct diagnosis.  If we do not know the truth about our condition we will die.

The power-hungry are blind. They do not want to see that it was their greed that destroyed production.

Just grabbing and gulping down what others have grown does not produce anything.

Once all is eaten hunger returns. Just owning land does not make crops grow.

“What is truth?” a certain Pontius Pilate asked skeptically. Men of power rarely have much respect for truth. This is why their empires do not last.

Too many lies eventually undermine power.  The powerful end up living in a cloud-cuckoo-land, losing touch with reality.

We need people with a passion for truth, people who are not satisfied with mere headlines.  People who know the difference between “sanctions” and a “travel ban”,  between farming and talking into a cell-phone, between occupying land and working it.

Voter intimidation and falsified election results distorted the true will of the people.

Governments lacked genuine majority support and, therefore, legitimacy. The truth was suppressed and we were denied our freedom. Only “the truth makes us free”.

Corrupt leaders have robbed government of tax revenue. If you steal a thousand dollars you go to prison. Steal a million and you go free. Steal anything if you have an uncle in the corridors of power.

We need to beg for funds to run our elections. Where are the Chiadzwa diamonds? Where are the taxes?

All this happens because we are afraid of  being punished for “speaking  truth to power”.  Honest people are being gagged by oppressive legislation and accused of “defamation” for wanting to know the origin of wealth in our impoverished country.

That is why we need a lively opposition in Parliament.  Africa thinks being in opposition is a waste of time, is failure. Far from it.

Without an opposition free to ask embarrassing questions we are all led down the garden path and end up in a ditch because nobody warned us.

For a similar reason we need free media, freedom of information and  expression, reporters and journalists who never tire of finding out the truth.

If you just want to earn a top salary journalism is perhaps not such a good idea.

But if you  have a passion for  asking questions and having them answered, never taking no comment for an answer, then a desk in a newsroom may be the right spot for you.

Just as a doctor must have a passion for healing her patients, even those who cannot  pay, so a news writer must find satisfaction in sharing information with his fellow citizens and  empowering them to judge things based on true facts.

Truth is not just a commodity to be sold. It has value whether you are adequately paid for your stories or not.

It is worth even some sacrifice, like “enjoying the hospitality of the State” over a long weekend in a police cell.

Power is not just in the hands of leaders and political agents. The journalist who is professionally curious about what the political class is up to is powerful too, in his or her own way.

It can make them arrogant, or careless and lazy . “Who can touch me?” Worse still, it can corrupt them; put them on the “market” where they have their “price”.

There is an occupational hazard, cynicism. Like the old Roman governor, they may ask, “What is truth?”

They may lose their conviction that there is truth;  the trend may be to think there are only opinions which are not worth fighting for. Since different employers seem to have different ideas about what is true and false, they decide to make a living rather than living with a conviction they cannot afford.

They learn to be able to write in just about any style, to suit any taste, for the purposes of any ideology.  When they enter the media house where they are employed they hand in their conscience at the reception.

Occasionally we have the good fortune of meeting a leader, a true statesman or — woman, who is prepared to reveal his true convictions and make demands on the people, even if it costs them votes.

Just as we meet writers and communicators who believe in truth and regard it a treasure worth seeking, even though they humbly admit they do not always succeed in finding it.